My Religion Is a Lot Like the Game of Baseball

Chapters Chapter 1 Early Years Chapter 2 Patty Chapter 3 1-room School
Chapter 4 Friends Chapter 5 High School Chapter 6 Grandpa
Chapter 7 Marianne Chapter 8 Rookie Chapter 9 At the Plate

Chapter 6  - Grandpa

One summer day my grandfather (my mother’s father) came to live with us.  He had been robbed of all his savings and knew my dad would not turn anyone away.  He brought a few clothes in a valise.  My mother and father moved to the upstairs bedroom so “Papa” could sleep downstairs and have the luxury of no steps.  That puzzled me because his health was better than my mother’s.

A few days after Grandpa arrived, Charlie Dick delivered the rest of Grandpa’s clothes and a big piece of furniture called a “wardrobe.”  That was where Grandpa kept his clothes.  It seemed to me any “family” errand required Charlie Dick.  He helped carry the dresser to the upstairs bedroom my parents would be using to make room for the wardrobe in the bedroom they had vacated for Grandpa.  Charlie was Grandpa’s son-in-law.  He had been married to the family favorite (my aunt) Katie, whose several illnesses and untimely death were a source of Sunday conversation.  Charlie Dick had an always-hoarse voice, was a dynamo of motion, and could not talk without swearing.  He laughed a lot, mostly at his own jokes.  Adults tended to put Katie on an angelic pedestal, while her husband, Charlie was the brunt of many eye-rolling stories.  I looked forward to his visits and his unending antics.

Grandpa was a baseball fan.  He moved the radio to the corner of the living room and claimed the rocking chair as his “box seat.”  Afternoon baseball was on the radio at the same time as my mother’s favorite “soap operas.”  She gave up the rocking chair to sit in the kitchen to hear the latest episodes of Ma Perkins and The Guiding Light.

“This is the last pure place where Americans dream.  This is the last great arena, the last green arena, where everyone can learn the lessons of life.”

-Bart Giamatti, Commissioner of Baseball (1989)

There were times when I’d happen to pass near the corner where Grandpa sat listening to baseball, and I’d overhear exciting things like a home run being hit, or a pitcher on the verge of a no-hitter.  Hearing the play-by-play brought back memories of the fun I’d had playing baseball at Mound School.  One day I had to stop and listen when the Yankees started scoring against the White Sox in the bottom of the ninth.  The Sox went into the ninth with a 12-0 lead.  I sat on the end of the sofa close to the radio and listened as the Yankees continued to score and won the game 13-12!

Grandpa

Grandpa

We had a garden with a few vegetables and strawberries.  Grandpa spent part of each day hoeing and pulling weeds.  His prized possession was a gold pocket watch maybe a little less than two inches in diameter with an elaborately engraved hinged cover.  Before he went to the garden, he’d snap open the cover to check the time and when he came back in, he looked at the time again.  He had palsy and poor eyes, though he didn’t wear glasses.  It was fascinating to see his head shake and his hand shake while his eyes tried to focus on the face of the watch.

Grandpa told me his father was left as a baby on a doorstep.  A note was attached with the name, “Levi Casson.”  Grandpa had the facial features and trim build of his Cherokee father, but he had fair skin and wavy red hair.  Grandpa combed his hair with intent and patience until the waves fell into place.  He shaved with a straight razor and spent time polishing his shoes and brushing his clothes.  When he wasn’t listening to ballgames, he told long, detailed stories that could take an hour to complete.  He told about when he was six years old and his dad had taken him to the Lincoln campaign train when it stopped in Galesburg.  Abraham Lincoln shook his hand.  Grandpa said, “What I remember most was the size of his hand.”  He told me his dad had fought in the Civil War and he remembered seeing his father returning home from the war in a uniform and long overcoat.  It may be possible my great grandfather fought in a Cherokee Regiment in the Civil War.  Grandpa had worked in the coal mines to help support the family while his father was away.  He could not have been more than eight years old at the time.

Grandpa’s brother lived in some western state.  He made his money in oil and I met him once when he came to Canton for a short visit and stopped at our house to see Grandpa.  Grandpa’s sister (my great aunt) Dell lived in the hills not far from where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi.  I saw her only one time and that was several years before Grandpa came to live with us.  I was lucky to be included in the carload of relatives who drove there for a one-day visit.  In the car were my mother’s sister, Florence, her daughter, Mildred and granddaughter, Carolee who was about three years younger than I; my mother, my sister and her son, Carroll who was Carolee’s age.  Aunt Dell wore her long black hair in braids.  She smoked a pipe and wore thin-looking moccasins.  While the adults visited, we three younger ones spent the afternoon running through the trees and hills with Aunt Dell’s granddaughter, barefoot and wearing a faded purple, sack-like ragged-edged dress.  There wasn’t much conversation between we four.  I am not sure we learned each other’s names because Carroll called the girl, Purple Dress.

When he was younger, Grandpa had had some work with the county—maybe county commissioner—and he was knowledgeable about the State of Illinois.  When I brought friends home from college, he’d ask which town they were from.  Then he’d tell which county that town was in and which town was the county seat.  Because he had gone to work in the coal mines at such an early age, his education had to be minimal, but he was a gluttonous reader of newspapers and was well informed about government from local to national.  After he came to live with us, in addition to our usual Canton Daily Ledger, we started getting the Peoria Journal and Grandpa usually picked up a Chicago newspaper on Fridays when he went to town.

Every Sunday our house was full of relatives.  Having all those people around gave Grandpa a chance to tell many of his stories.  I soon found out if I missed some of the details the first time, the story would be told again.  While the women worked in the kitchen, the men sat or slept in the living room and pretended to listen to Grandpa.  Everyone knew he appreciated the accuracy of his watch, so hardly anyone came or went without inquiring about the time.

With the advent of the computer, churches are able to track members’ attendance patterns.  Some members attend almost every Sunday; some every two or three weeks; some members attended “regularly” once a month; and some show up for worship services at Christmas and Easter.